In 2010, a group of high school youth from St. Peter’s United Church of Christ in Saukville (now Parkside Community UCC) embarked on a mission trip to Cleveland, Ohio. Those impacted by that short trip wound up reaching far beyond the residents of Cleveland, benefitting all of Ozaukee County for the last nine years.
While in Cleveland, the students and their two adult leaders worked in a soup kitchen, a food pantry, and a community garden, being amazed by how each effort worked and inspired by the number of lives were changed because of that work. They simply asked the question, “Why don’t we?”
Upon returning, they contacted Immaculate Conception Church in Saukville, which had been operating a local food pantry but was looking for someone to take it over. From there, a 501c3 nonprofit organization was formed, with the help of eight people from several local churches, and in January 2012, the Saukville Community Food Pantry opened its doors.
Today, this nonprofit includes a full working board of 12, plus 50-60 volunteers, and is led by one of the original mission trip adult leaders, Mark Gierach, who now serves as the organization’s Executive Director. It assists as many as 600-700 local families per year with a variety of outreach programs and services. The food pantry now takes over the majority of the basement of Parkside Community UCC, and is seeking a larger facility to allow for expansion.
The pantry is neatly arranged and well-stocked with all necessary supplies. Stepping into the “shopping” area of the pantry looks just as professional as a regular grocery store. Families are given a grocery cart and guidelines to choose a specified number of items per shopping category. They are then able to peruse the pantry to select items their family will use, including meat, dairy and produce.
Gierach proudly explains, “They leave here with grocery carts full of food. They really do.”
The support is provided by donations from the public as well as partnerships with other organizations. Feeding American has provided wonderful connections, allowing the pantry to receive grocery store meat that is frozen the day before its freeze-by date, bakery items and produce. When the Ozaukee Humane Society had to close its doors to the public during COVID, it started donating its items from its pet food pantry, so for now, even the four-legged family members are being served.
Always looking for ways to improve their services, the pantry now features two impressive aquaponic stations where lettuce is grown fresh, right in the church basement.
“The produce we get from the grocery stores is often at the end of its shelf life,” rationalizes Gierach. “This is like picking it out of the field.” They hope to add spinach, cherry tomatoes, and possibly strawberries to the indoor garden.
“One step at a time,” grins Gierach.
The food pantry also provides aid beyond food, serving as a resource for families’ other needs; working with Family Promise, a homeless shelter in Port Washington, to provide shelter and back to school supplies for kids, and partnering with St. Vincent DePaul, Salvation Army, and the YMCA. Before COVID, SEEK would often set up a table in the pantry to help residents find work.
The organization is extremely active with community outreach. They started a backpack program with Port Washington and Saukville Elementary and Middle schools, where approximately 100 kids are sent home each weekend with a backpack full of food for their families (they hope to expand this program to other communities in the future). Each month from April through October, they host a mobile food pantry program at Saukville’s Grady Park, where all are welcome to drive up and get a box of food, courtesy of Feeding America. While the free community meals program typically hosts every other Saturday, they are on hold due to the pandemic, but will resume in September.
COVID-19 made the services provided by the Saukville Community Food Pantry even more necessary and valuable to the community, as demand skyrocketed.
“After March, 2020, we more than doubled what we were doing the year prior,” says Gierach.
Due to COVID, the pantry is requiring appointments to make pickups at the pantry, but is open a variety of hours to fit all schedules. Appointments can be made by calling 262-689-8591 or registering online at http://saukvillefoodpantry.org/get-help/. The pantry requires nothing but proof of Ozaukee County residency to use its services, “but even that we bend for other communities on the county line. We’re not going to turn anyone away,” Gierach promises.
Want to donate? Here are items currently needed:
· Toilet Paper
· Paper Towels
· Bath Soap
· Toothpaste and tooth brushes
· Chunky Soups
· Canned Chicken
· Pasta Sause
· Cake & Cookie Mix’s
· Canned Fruit
· Canned Beans
· Canned Pasta (Ravioli, Rings, Beefaroni, etc)
· Dry Cereal
· Peanut Butter & Jelly
Drop off Sites:
Schmit Bros. Auto -Saukville Dogs N Motion - Saukville Wild Birds Unlimited, Port Washington Rd. - Mequon Fox Bros Piggly Wiggly -Saukville
Parkside Community UCC - Saukville